Hundreds of students at Nord University graduate every school term. Some of them pass and proceed to new modules, others have to take the subject over again. One thing that they all share is that they eventually finish and leave the university. An option not available to me, the emergency response manager. I need to pass the exam every single year knowing that it takes more than one victory to succeed in crisis management.
A Culture of Emergency Preparedness
Crisis management is in my opinion not a stand-alone task you can check off as completed after one exercise. It’s more an underlying mentality that forms the basis of all the work we do. It’s part of our culture.
To build this culture at the university, we began to simplify and adapt our management plans to today's structure. We replaced what was previously two teams (strategic and operational) with ONE emergency management team. Furthermore, we focused on raising awareness about business continuity within the different roles, which resulted in more training of various resource groups.
Our goal is that everyone at the university can contribute to preventative safety and know what to do if something happens.
One Thing at a Time
When we first started working on our crisis management routines, the results were comparable to a failing grade. It was disappointing, but while we were keen on reversing the bad results, it was important for us to be patient and take one step at a time.
My advice is that you shouldn’t worry about the mistakes you make whilst your organisation is working systematically towards success.
Find the Right Tools
In our effort to create an emergency preparedness culture, we had to implement new processes. Our routine for logging during incidents was particularly problematic. Basically, we logged something after it had been decided, but the loggers had a hard time deciding what to log and when a task was considered finished.
We used whiteboards and markers, which was confusing, and the staff felt they failed constantly. The turning point came when we started using the meeting module in our security and emergency management system.
We began to structure the meetings from a predefined agenda. Now everyone views the schedule on the big screen while the loggers make notes in real-time. It makes it possible to share tasks and collectively correct our work. If someone diverts from the agenda, the group responds immediately. The employees now feel empowered to work efficiently.
This change transformed the experience of a loggist, and the commitment to emergency preparedness increased. The right tools are therefore essential for achieving business continuity.
Our Annual Emergency Preparedness Exam
As mentioned above, one victory doesn’t ensure success in emergency preparedness. That’s why we have several exercises throughout the year, the highlight of which is "Exercise Week", a full-scale training event in collaborative crisis management.
The exercise has a different theme each year. In 2017, the focus was anti-terrorism. The scenario featured a VIP taken hostage by terrorists at the university. The primary goal was to practice civil/military collaboration.
The police participated with the emergency response group, the bomb unit, the Royal Police Escort, Troms and Nordland Civil Defense, the Crisis Support Unit and the Rescue Center. At the same time, our journalism student reported from the incident, and IT students contributed to the technical work.
I consider this annual exercise as our emergency preparedness exam, and I am convinced that the knowledge we acquire also benefits other institutions. After all, the only way to get better is to practice and learn. Therefore, we stream the entire exercise online so that others can take part in our commitment to emergency preparedness.